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Haitian-Canadian MP headed to Miami to try to address would-be asylum seekers

Last Updated Aug 21, 2017 at 2:40 pm PDT

Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg is shown on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday June 10, 2014. A Liberal MP born in Haiti is off to Miami this week as part of the federal government's efforts to address the flow of Haitians crossing illegally into Canada to seek asylum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA – Haitian-Canadian MP Emmanuel Dubourg will travel to Miami on Wednesday to try and counter misinformation which has driven thousands of Haitian asylum seekers to Canada in recent months.

His trip comes as both the prime minister and Liberal cabinet ministers have sought in recent days to more forcefully address the major spike in illegal border crossings this summer, which has strained public resources and tested traditionally widespread support for Canada’s immigration system.

Dubourg, a Liberal MP for a Montreal-area riding, was appointed last week to a newly established federal-provincial task force focusing on how to handle upwards of 7,000 people who’ve been stopped illegally crossing into Canada since June, the vast majority intent on seeking asylum.

In the last two months, many have been Haitian and Dubourg sees himself cast in the role of ambassador. He’s already used his extensive connections with the Haitian diaspora and fluency in Creole for outreach there, he said.

The next step is to take it on the road.

“We have to go to the source,” Dubourg said Monday.

So he’s going to Florida, to do Creole-language interviews and meet community leaders among Miami’s Haitian diaspora. Not all those coming to Canada are from there, Dubourg said, but the city has over 200,000 Haitians and a slew of influential media outlets.

What’s behind the surge in Haitian asylum seekers in Canada is an upcoming change in U.S. immigration policy that will see deportations to Haiti resume after a lengthy pause.

When the Trump administration signalled the change in May, information began circulating on social media and other channels suggesting Haitians in the U.S. try to enter Canada, where they’d receive a warm and easy welcome.

The cold truth of Canadian policy, however, is that only about 50 per cent of Haitians who file for asylum in Canada receive it and the Canadian government has resumed deportations to that country.

“It’s important to tell them that before they sell their things, before they take any kind of decision (to come),” Dubourg said.

“They have to know full well what can happen.”

The startling spike in arrivals and how the government is handling them has prompted anti-immigration groups to start mobilizing across the country. A protest — and counter-protest — were held in Quebec City over the weekend and other rallies are being scheduled in Canada in the coming weeks amidst criticism being levied against the Liberal government that they are losing control of the border.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered some of his strongest remarks on the subject in response to the weekend’s events, when he said “entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage. There are rigorous immigration and customs rules that will be followed. Make no mistake.”

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also travelled to the crossing point in Quebec on Monday to hammer home the point.

“What I want to emphasize…is a very clear message about Canadian law and procedure that needs to be repeated loud and clear in all circumstances: trying to cross the border in an irregular fashion is not a free ticket to Canada,” Goodale said.

Hussen noted that the number of asylum seekers has fallen in recent days to about 140 a day from 250 last week.

But the surge of arrivals has strained the resources of both those departments. Asylum seekers are being held in temporary camps on the border while screening is completed and others are being bused as far away as Cornwall, Ont., for temporary housing.

Dubourg came to Canada from Haiti in 1974, joining his other six siblings, part of a wave of Haitians who moved to Quebec as part of a special program set up by the Quebec government at the time to help those fleeing violence and instability under dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

He was first elected to the House of Commons in a by-election in 2013, and prior to that, served as a member of Quebec’s national assembly, where he helped Haitians seeking settlement in Canada after the 2010 earthquake.